Finding Intrinsic Motivation

I believe that the silver bullet in teaching is to instill intrinsic motivation. Once a person is motivated from their very core to learn, there is nothing that will stop them from a lifetime of learning.

But instilling intrinsic motivation turns out to be harder than it sounds. Every time you try to motivate your students, it automatically becomes extrinsic motivation. And if it’s extrinsic, it disappears as soon as the carrot or stick has gone.

In self reflection over my own motivation as a learner, I think I’ve settled on the slow, painstaking way to teach intrinsic motivation. It doesn’t involve teaching at all: it involves exemplifying.

Be an example to the people who know you as intrinsically motivated to learn. Let them see you learning, for the simple love of learning. Let them see you struggle to uncover new knowledge, simply because it’s new.

Exemplify this enough to the learners under your tutelage, and you will begin to see them adopt the same motivation. (Not every student will get it from the same teacher – one more reason we need many teachers in our lives.)

In short, be someone who loves learning, and then show that love as often as you can. Wait a couple of decades and see the results. Simple!

Over the years I have had many teachers worth emulating, and I learned to love learning by watching them love it.

But the one human being who has done more to instill my own intrinsic motivation for learning than any other is my father. His love of learning is legendary to all who know him, and he has passed down that love as an inheritance to his children as well as to the many physicians who studied under him.

I can’t help but hope and believe that my students–and my sons–are also enhancing their own inner hunger for learning through my efforts.

Thanks, Dad.